Cancer, Revisited

Earlier this week,  I attended the first annual Kay Johnson Memorial Lecture. Kay was a Hampshire faculty member who died in 2019. I knew her really well because our sons were best friends from birth to the age of 5.

Kay died from metastatic breast cancer. In honor of Kay, I am reposting a piece from 2009.  At that time, my Uncle Norm had a diagnosis of lung cancer. He died a few weeks later. 12 years later, we have still not made enough progress in the fight against cancer. Hopefully once President Biden gets COVID and the economy under control, he can turn his attention to defeating cancer.

Cancer  12/16/2009

As part of my research for my new book, I have been reading short stories from various eras of Harper’s Magazine. One written in 1949, “The Lady Walks,” by Jean Powell, deals with a faculty wife who has breast cancer. Although my original interest in the story was because of the faculty wife character, Ravita, as a nurse I found the description of the cancer treatment clinic she goes to unsettling. The description did not seem that different from clinics I have worked at various times in the past fifteen years.

After reading the story, I have concluded that things have not changed as much as we might think or like in the area of treatment of cancer. Today I participated in a Cancer Care teleconference, “The Latest Developments Reported at the 32nd Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.”  It was very interesting; there are new drugs that might prevent bone loss in cancer patients as well possibly prevent the re-ocurrence of cancer.  However, treatment for certain kinds of breast cancer is a five-year process, which seems extraordinary long.

Around Thanksgiving, I read a story in the New York Times about a recreational lounge for cancer patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, a hospital in New York City. One of the patients is Seun Adebiyi, a young Nigerian immigrant and a Yale Law School graduate. He has lymphoblastic lymphoma and stem-cell leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. He is also trying to be the first Nigerian to compete in the Winter Olympics in skeleton. His goal is 2014. I have participated in a bone marrow drive but I have never received a call to donate.

I have had friends who have died from ovarian cancer and relatives who have experienced lung cancer. Although we may not have made as much progress in the last sixty years as we would have liked, let us hope that we can make significant progress against cancer in the coming days.

 

Busy Week

This past week I was very busy. As I wrote last week, Saturday was the first night of Passover. We had  a great time with my sons and daughter-in-law. Next year I hope we can have even more family attend our seder.

Passover is one of my favorite holidays ,but eating just matzah for a week is tough. The change in diet gave me some minor health issues, primarily the stomach kind. Regularity begets regularity, if you get what I mean.

Because at the end of last week, I was getting ready for Passover, I fell behind on some routine tasks, such as mail, email (the bane of my existence) and bills. This week I had to play catch up.

As a result, I spent most of the week not actually writing anything. I did finish reading and taking notes on two books that had to go back to the library.  Although I didn’t write much, I had writing experiences due to the two groups I am involved with.

This was week was the first meeting of a new ten week session from Nerissa Nields’ Writing It Up in the Garden. I switched from her group that meets Wednesday evenings back to the group I was in last year, Tuesday midday. I like the people and I got good feedback on some pages I read from the chapter I am currently working on.

One of the people in the group read something about ALS, which was hard for me to listen to. I have known several people, including my brother Fred, who have died from that terrible disease and my first cousin, Lowell, is living with it.

The other writing  experience involved the year long Pioneer Valley Writers Workshop Creative Nonfiction Group that I am participating in. The first meeting was at the beginning of last month. One part of the program is having a different accountability buddy each month. I really enjoyed my first buddy, Jennifer. We have a lot in common and are working on similar topics. It was great to talk about my book to a fellow historian.

Although the week had hard parts and was busy, I did do some enjoyable things. Last week  was the World Figure Skating Championships. I couldn’t watch them in real time so, starting this past Monday, I watched repeats of all the events. It ended last night with the ice dancing. It was a pleasure to watch the superb skating of all the athletes. I love skating and, in fact, I am going skating today. The week is ending on a good note.

 

 

 

Happy Passover

Passover is one of my favorite holidays. When I was a child, my maternal grandparents owned a delicatessen, Al’s Delicatessen, in Long Beach, Long Island.  The store, which is what we called the delicatessen, was open from the end of Passover to Labor Day. Long Beach is an ocean town with a lot of seasonal visitors. In the off season, my grandparents worked in hotels in Miami Beach.

Before they opened the store for the season, they had a big seder for friends and family. The room would be filled with tables where all my relatives sat talking loudly. All of the kids were at one table, me, Fred, Sara, Marla, Linda, Stevie, Marsha and Stanley. I think Lowell was a baby.

My grandfather conducted the seder in Hebrew, speaking really quickly. The place was filled with people and always noisy. There was often singing, not from my family, but my Great Aunt Fay, her children and grandchildren could all carry a tune. I didn’t have any idea what my grandfather was saying but I was always able to figure out when we were done because we got to eat.

The food was delicious. My grandmother was a great cook, especially when it came to Jewish food. She couldn’t make a hamburger but her matzah balls and brisket were fantastic. I can still see her wearing a beige apron wrapped around her waist with her kind face smiling.

At the seder, the grandchildren always got special treatment. Somehow, one of us always found the afikomen (hidden piece of matzah). If we didn’t, we still got a treat. That was the kind of person my grandfather was.

Perhaps these wonderful memories are why I like Passover. I also like that it is family based and takes place in the home. The  holiday message of freedom and liberation is meaningful and timeless. My grandmother died when I was ten and a few years later, my grandfather sold the store. After that  my mother organized family seders which of course had fewer people.

My father, who didn’t speak Hebrew, kept my grandfather’s pace, but in English.  The seders were still loud and lively but there was no singing. My mother tried her best to replicate my grandmother’s tasty dishes. That kind of cooking did not come naturally to her so I give her a lot of credit for trying.

Once I had my own family, I made seders. I have tried to prepare my grandmother’s dishes , filtered through with both my mother’s and my adaptations. From 2005 to 2009, my first cousin’s daughter, Nina, went to Hampshire College so we saw a lot of her. She attended our seders and has continued to do so even after she graduated.

Our seders are loud and lively. We even sing, very off tune, but we do it. My favorite song to sing is not really a Passover song. It is Rise and Shine, about Noah’s ark. We sing it because I know all the words and I think it is funny.

Last year, we had a virtual seder on Zoom. I am grateful that this year we can celebrate Passover in person because we have been vaccinated. Almost of all of the people who made my childhood seders so special are gone. My brother is also deceased. I am glad for those memories and the memories I have made for my family.

 

 

Workers and Unions

Union House and Union Bar Cards used in earlier years. Courtesy of UniteHere.

Workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon warehouse are trying to form a union. The story has gone national with both President Biden and Senator Marco Rubio weighing in on the side of the workers. Amazon has engaged in hard-ball anti-labor tactics in the past and we can assume they will pursue that course in Alabama.

Union membership and ensuing political power has been declining for years. Labor law most often favors the employer rather than the employee. The Bessemer workers hope that if they succeed this will prompt other Amazon workers in different parts of the country to attempt unionization as well.

Here is an excerpt from Brewing Battles about the brewery workers union in the late 19th century.

In the 1870s, the number of breweries in America reached a record 4,131 and by 1890, output had risen to over 227 million barrels from 3 million at the end of the war. Although there were breweries throughout the country, the business concentrated in urban areas. Lack of appropriate refrigeration made far flung distribution of beer impossible. Demographics also played an important role. Urban areas, with their large ethnic populations, particularly German, were the perfect marketplace for brewers. As a result, certain cities, such as New York, Milwaukee, and Chicago became brewing centers. In the South beer drinking and brewing did not really take hold perhaps because of the small immigrant population there as well as persistent illegal distilling or moonshine.[1]

Urban areas had the most breweries and also the most workers. Cities became the focal point of emerging labor and union activity. In 1886 the newly founded United Brewery Workers (UBW) engaged in a boycott of Peter Doegler Brewery, Brooklyn, New York. Boycotts, as well as union labels, were major weapons in ongoing union struggles with the brewers. A mass product such as beer befitted the use of both strategies. Working class-drinkers contributed greatly to the sales of malt liquors, which they purchased from local brewers. The boycott had originated in Ireland around issues of land and rent. Irish-American radicals adopted the concept of social ostracism which was the foundation of the tactic. The boycott was one element in the social adaptation of immigrants to their new world. Boycotts, parades, and mass demonstrations “provided opportunities for immigrant workers to participate in familiar patterns of protest and recreation.”[2] Pervasive in labor struggles in the 1880s, boycotts and the practice of social ostracism often went hand-in-hand. Both worked best in neighborhoods and small communities and helped foster consumer consciousness. The UBW strove to increase class consciousness.

The new union successfully negotiated a contract with the Brewers Association in the spring of 1886 which gave workers a weekly wage of $15 to $18 for a six day week, 10 hours a day. The young organization had certainly gained an “extraordinary victory.”[3]

1886 was a good year for brewery workers nationwide as unions developed in Baltimore, Chicago, New Jersey, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Detroit, San Francisco, and Buffalo. Many of the unions operated under the auspices of the Knights of Labor. In California Alfred Fuhrman, a sailor and the Federated Trades Council organized the Brewers’ and Maltsters’ Union of the Pacific Coast. Through a boycott of one San Francisco brewery, Fuhrman organized workers in five companies and achieved support throughout the Coast area.[4]

Brewery workers used tactics like the boycott and the union label to encourage workers from other industries to support their struggles with management. The UBW sought to build a strong union and to fully legitimate organized labor in the brewing industry. Towards that end, in conjunction with boycotts, the brewery workers and other unions promoted the concept of “union labor” which implied cooperation with pro-union management against anti-union owners. The average brewery laborer had a hard and grueling life before the advent of the union movement yet the UBW won changes in working conditions, hours, and wages more easily than they did advancements in recognition and jurisdiction. The early successes of the union in gaining ten hour days and increased wages in various cities served as the prelude to ten years of fighting with the brewers and the Brewers Association for union legitimacy.

Many unions formed in the 1880s evolved from strong craft heritages and traditions. Brewing, in many ways, was a traditional occupation; brewers certainly sought to present their business to the public in this light. Yet, at least since the Civil War, brewing required primarily unskilled and thus replaceable labor. The second convention of the UBW recognized this fact of life. Although the union strongly supported the hiring of experienced brewery workers over inexperienced ones, the convention proposed an inclusive union for all workers and trades in the industry; an industrial union. Organizing all the workers in an industry made it more difficult for management to break strikes. Thus the UBW consisted of beer-drivers, maltsters, firemen, and engineers, and became the first industrial union in the country to survive. This commitment to industrial unionism would lead to chronic jurisdictional difficulties with other unions and the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The union sought to organize all workers in the industry, yet it did not consider distillery workers as part of its jurisdiction. On this point the union agreed with the brewers’ view of division within the liquor industry.[5]

[1] For information about moonshine and illicit distilling in the South after the Civil War, see Wilbur R. Miller, Revenuers & Moonshiners: Enforcing Federal Liquor Law in the Mountain South, 1865-1900 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991).

[2] Michael A. Gordon, “The Labor Boycott in New York City, 1880-1886,” Labor History, 16 (Spring 1975), 194.

[3] Schlüter, The Brewing Industry 117; Gordon, “The Labor Boycott in New York City,” 213.

[4] Schlüter, The Brewing Industry, p 117-127; Ira Cross, A History Of the Labor Movement in California, 191-192.

[5] James Morris, Conflict Within the AFL, A Study of Craft Versus Industrial Unionism, 1901–1938, (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1958), 20. Another name for the UBW was National Union of United Brewery Workmen of the United States.

 

Indifference

Sometime after George Floyd’s murder, I started being the facilitator of a once-a-week virtual hour long session on Jews and race in America. The “class” is through the JCA. The last few weeks we have been reading a speech that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel gave in 1963 at a Chicago Conference on Race and Religion. It was at that conference that Heschel first met Martin Luther King Jr.

This week we read a section about indifference to evil. “There is an evil most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil. We remain neutral, impartial and not easily moved by the wrongs done unto other people. Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself; it is more universal, more contagious, more dangerous. A silent justification, it makes possible an evil erupting as an exception becoming the rule and being in turn accepted.”

Heschel’s speech was focused on the evil of segregation and the daily injustices that black people suffered. He was also, subtly, looking back to the overwhelming evil of the Holocaust. Heschel, born in Poland, left Germany in 1940; many members of his family who remained perished.

Reading that passage, the word “indifference” stood out. What is the opposite of indifference? Is it attention, caring, sympathy or empathy? Today’s world seems beset by problems. It can feel overwhelming contemplating how to act.

The song “I Think It is Going to Rain Today,” by Randy Newman also came to mind.

“Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today

Lonely, lonely
Tin can at my feet
Think I’ll kick it down the street
That’s the way to treat a friend”

In my teenage years I sang that song to myself many times. The somewhat sarcastic or cynical lyrics perfectly summed up my view of the world and its problems.

It is many years later and the song still has a lot of meaning. America has many compelling issues. Climate change, systemic racism, COVID and continuing economic inequality are some of them. It is hard to know where to start.

Heschel wanted his audience to face racism and act to end it. Heschel didn’t just give speeches and sermons about the evils of racism. He was an active participant in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and marched with MLK in Selma.

Jim Crow and segregation did end but racism has not gone away. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his essay, Three Ways of Meeting Oppression, “To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system.” Both King and Heschel fought against indifference to and denial of racism. To act in a way that contradicts indifference to evil requires us to do something, anything. To the best of our ability, we need to stand up and be counted.

 

Jewish Brewing, Revisited

At the end of 2020 , I was contacted by two different people who had  read my post from 2009 about Jewish Beer and Brewing. One was Arieh Lebowitz who is the executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee and the other was Gerry Regan, whose father worked for Rheingold Beer. He has a blog and has written about Rheingold.

Rheingold Beer is apparently brewed in Wilton, Connecticut. There is a Facebook page devoted to the beer and here is a rating from the Beer Advocate.

Some of the links from the 2009 post don’t work and I can’t figure out how to fix them so here is a different version of the Rheingold jingle. Here is picture of a Rheingold can:

I know this is a short post but I originally thought I would be away from Thursday to Sunday and was planning not to post at all. Hopefully I will be better prepared next week and produce a completely scintillating post.

 

Biden Administration

As I was thinking about what to write for today’s post, I came across a post from November 2008 that I wrote about the incoming Obama administration. We are in the first few weeks of the Biden administration which I think has been going very well and is a great change from the previous regime.

The post is one of those that I wrote before I had a wordpress blog; when Network Solution hosted my website. It is interesting that twelve years Obama was facing a huge financial crisis and that today Biden is facing multiple crises including Covid and the economy. Since I can’t link to the original post, I decided to post it today.

November 18, 2008

The New Administration

It is interesting that President-Elect Obama is reading Abraham Lincoln since there are many parallels between Lincoln’s first term and Obama’s. Lincoln was the first Republican president; he faced the mammoth task of financing the Civil War as well as staffing all of the departments and agencies of the government. Many loyal Republicans sought rewards for their support of the party and the President.

Here is an excerpt from Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer  about the issues the new government faced.

From the moment Southern troops fired on Fort Sumter the Federal government required large sums of money to finance the Civil War. A Special Session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress (July­?August 1861) attempted to meet this need by increasing certain customs duties, imposing a direct tax of $20 million on the States, and instituting an income tax.[1]

It soon became clear that these measures alone could not relieve the country’s financial burdens. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase was hoping to raise $85 million and sent a bill to the Thirty-Seventh Congress. Congress, which reconvened on December 2, 1861, reviewed his request for a small increase in the income tax and excise taxes on manufactured goods. Distilled spirits, malt liquors, cotton, tobacco, carriages, yachts, billiard tables, gross receipts of railroads, steam boats and ferries, and playing cards all became taxable items. Signed by President Lincoln July 1, 1862, the measure became effective the following month.[2] By the 1870s Congress had repealed most of the excise taxes; the liquor tax, however, has remained in effect until today. The Internal Revenue Act of 1862 marked the entrance of the federal government into the affairs of the liquor industry; it has never left.

On July 22, 1862, President Lincoln appointed George Boutwell to be the first Commissioner of Internal Revenue. A two-time Governor of Massachusetts, Boutwell had been a Whig and a moderate anti-slavery man. This work plus political alliances with the Governor of Massachusetts, John A. Andrew, and Senator Charles Sumner led Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase to give Boutwell the job.[3]

Staffing and organizing the Bureau preoccupied Boutwell, who had almost four thousand jobs at his disposal. The size of the Federal Government expanded tremendously during the Civil War; the Treasury Department was no exception. The endless patronage possibilities caused both Boutwell and Secretary Chase to devote the first year of Internal Revenue’s existence to staffing. They paid little attention to other administrative or regulatory concerns. On August 7, 1862 Chase complained that he had “very little accomplished as yet, though much, I hope, in the train of accomplishment. Engaged nearly all day on selections for recommendation of Collectors and Assessors.”[4]

Six months after Boutwell took office, he had the department organized, at least nominally. The majority of employees were in the field. There were 366 collectors and assessors, 898 deputy collectors, and 2,558 assistant assessors. The Washington office consisted of the Commissioner, fifty-one male clerks and eight female clerks. The law authorized the establishment of collection districts which corresponded roughly to congressional districts. There were 185 districts in the loyal states.[5]
[1] U.S. Department, Internal Revenue Service, History of the Internal Revenue Service 1791-1929prepared under the direction of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, (Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1930), 2.

[2] Ibid., 3; Charles A. Jellison, Fessenden of Maine: Civil War Senator (Syracuse, N.Y: Syracuse University Press, 1962), 149; Leonard P. Curry, Blueprint for Modern America: Non-Military Legislation of the First Civil War Congress (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968), 149?181; Bray Hammond, Sovereignty and an Empty Purse: Banks and Politics in the Civil War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 52; Charles Estee, The Excise Tax Law (New York: Fitch, Estee, 1863), passim.

[3] Thomas H. Brown, George Sewall Boutwell: Public Servant 1818-1905, (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1979), 53, 56, 59, 110.

[4] Salmon P. Chase, Inside Lincoln’s Cabinet: The Civil War Diaries of Salmon P. Chase, ed. David Donald (New York, 1954), 110-111.

[5] History of Internal Revenue, 4; Schmeckebier and Eble, Bureau of Internal Revenue 8; Estee, Excise Tax Law, 310.

©

Copyright, Algora Publishing, 2007.

A few points about this history: It makes clear the large burden of setting up a new presidential administration especially during a crisis. It is also clear that in times of financial need the federal government often turns to the liquor industry and taxes for help. It is entirely possible that the Obama administration will eventually look at excise taxes for help with financing projects and reducing the deficit. State governments will probably follow suit.

Jay Brooks at Brookston Beer Bulletin has been writing a fair amount about taxes recently and nicely cited Brewing Battles as a sourceOne slight correction however- Jay maintains that the taxes stayed after the Civil War due to pressure from temperance advocates and prohibitionists. It is more accurate that the taxes remained because they developed into a steady, secure source of revenue for the federal government. It was not until a new source, the income tax, developed in the early twentieth century that the federal government could contemplate losing the money from liquor taxes. The prohibition movement had an ambivalent relationship to the federal liquor tax. They often decried the legitimacy the tax provided to the industry.

Of course when the federal government, in the depths of the Great Depression, needed a quick source of revenue, the 18th amendment was repealed. The liquor industry and the liquor tax became legal on December 5, 1933, seventy-five years ago. I will be writing more on the subject of Repeal in the coming days.

A New Day

In 2009, I went to President Obama’s first inauguration. It is lovely memory which I have been reflecting on this week. There is also a poignancy to thinking about that day since my brother was alive and well then but has been gone for over 7 years now.

I watched all of the inaugural festivities on Wednesday and thought they were perfect and beautiful. Obama’s first inauguration represented a new beginning and so does Biden’s. Four year of our worst president ever who also happened to be a fascist has erased what a bad president George W. Bush was.

Let us take the hope Biden’s presidency has inspired and turn it into action to defeat COVID, systemic racism and economic inequality. Here is my post from January 22, 2009, exactly 12 years ago.

Change Has Come

I went to Washington for the Inauguration. It was amazing. My husband and I were there from Saturday until yesterday. Saturday evening we went to a Fairfax County Democratic Ball which was very interesting. It is great that Virginia went Democratic for the first time since 1964.

Sunday we went to see a Lincoln exhibit at the National Museum of American History and also saw Julia Child’s kitchen. She had two copies of Joy of Cooking which I guess means that book was as indispensable to her as to the rest of America. We also met the director of the museum. He gave us directions.

Then we walked toward the Washington Monument to try to attend the We are One concert. We hooked up with a lovely young woman named Rima and her sister. Rima is a Washington native so she was very helpful and extraordinarily nice. The whole time in Washington everyone was very nice. We wound up being pretty close to the stage at the Lincoln Memorial, and I did see with my own eyes, not on the JumboTron, the bottom half of Obama walk to the podium so I guess that we can count that as my Obama sighting.

The concert was very exciting. Garth Brooks was the best. When Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sang “This Land is Your Land” everyone was singing. One person near me was pledging allegiance. The concert built as it went along and Obama’s speech was very good. Beyonce closed the concert which was very entertaining.

On Monday we walked completely around the Tidal Basin and saw both the Jefferson Memorial and the Roosevelt Memorial. The Martin Luther King Junior Memorial will also be on the Tidal Basin which is where the Cherry Blossoms are in the spring. The scenery was beautiful. (I will put up pictures in the next few days.) Since it was Martin Luther King Day and President Obama said it should be a day of service, we went and picketed in front of a Hilton Hotel with the workers from the hotel. Apparently they have been working without a contract for a year and a half. All of the candidates for governor of Virginia were there including Terry McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. He was the biggest celebrity we saw on our trip. He was passing out cookies.

Tuesday morning we go up at 3:15 in the morning and made our way to a subway stop parking garage in Northern Virginia. Even that early there was a line and many, many people on the Metro. We went to my sister-in-law’s office which is relatively close to the Capital. We ate some breakfast and had some coffee then set out to get to the Mall to see the swearing-in. There were more people on the street then I have ever seen and it was only 6:30 in the morning.  My brother had two tickets but very nicely gave them away to stay with us and his children, who are eighteen and fifteen. We were trying to get to 7th and Independence which was the start of the non-ticketed standing area on the Mall. At one point a truck needed to get by and everyone had to squeeze together. Near 7th a guard told us that we should go on to 12th or 14th. We wound up getting on to the Mall at 12th – there was no security- and watched the whole on a JumboTron between 9th and 12th.

I feel so fortunate that we actually got onto the Mall and saw the whole thing live. It was very cold and we stood there from 7 a.m. until 1p.m. They showed the concert again as a warm-up and then the ceremony started at 10 a.m. The crowd was enormous  and very friendly. There were millions of flags and every time there was anything to cheer about everyone waved them at the same time. It was so moving to see the flags and to feel so good about my country. To be in Washington for a positive reason and share that with so many people was truly a blessing. When Obama spoke and stood up for the Constitution and civil liberties it was thrilling. Reverend Lowery’s benediction was stunning and it was a great feeling to say Amen with everyone else. Only my feet got cold and I put hand warmers in my shoes. Attending the swearing in feels like I got a  gift. Yes We Can! Yes We Did! Yes We Will!

Human Rights Shabbat D’Var Torah – Part 3.

This is the final part of the talk I gave, December 12th,  at the Jewish Community of Amherst in honor of Human Rights Shabbat.

The law (Civil Rights Act, 1965) restored the rights the 14th and 15th  Amendments had originally granted to the newly freed slaves. The 1965 Voting Rights Act prohibited literacy tests and required federal oversight of voter registration in areas where less than 50 percent of the non-white population had not registered to vote. The law greatly increased black voting in Southern States. In Mississippi, participation went from 6 percent in 1964 to 59 percent in 1969. The Voting Rights Act provided both the federal courts and the federal government a variety of resources to ensure that there would be no discrimination in voting access.

A 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County vs. Holder ruled section 4b of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. This section contained a formula to determine which states required federal preclearance before making changes to their voting laws. This ruling led many southern states that had previously required the preclearance to change their voting laws, making them more restrictive. Several states engaged in mass purging of voter rolls, increased identification requirements and reduced the number of polling places. In the last election cycle, we saw many pictures of mostly black and brown people waiting on long lines to vote. One observer has called long voting lines the new poll tax.

As many of you may know there are currently two runoff Senate races in Georgia. The primary and runoff system in that state is itself the product of racist desires to keep black s from voting as a bloc and therefore gaining electoral power.  From 1917 to 1963, George had a county unit system for primaries. This system privileged, in a similar way to the electoral college, rural areas where most black did not live.

In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled this system unconstitutional. A Georgia Congressmen, Denmark Groover, a committed segregationist, stated that he supported the creation of runoff system for elections because it “would again provide protection which … was removed with the death of the county unit system.”

Groover believed the runoff would “prevent the Negro bloc vote from controlling the elections.” Georgia recently announced it was reducing the number of polling places for early voting for the election on Jan. 5. Georgia has never elected an African American Governor, lieutenant governor, senator, or Secretary of State. The first African American Attorney General was elected in 1998. Of course, if the Democrats win, a black man, and a Jew will both become Georgia Senators.  (I know that sounds like the beginning of a joke) Reverend Raphael Warnock would be the first African-American Democratic Senator from the South.

When I read the Joseph story, I wondered why it is in the Torah?  What purpose does his story serve? Joseph’s story gets us to Exodus and places the Israelites in Egypt where the legacy of his accomplishments has disappeared. The sense of fragility that the story conveys has greatly increased among American Jews in the past four years. Although, as an aggregate, wildly successful, American Jews have wondered if that success could be taken away. Could the rise of white nationalism lead to more anti-Semitism and an increase in hate crimes? The short answer is yes.

One of the goals of both the Tikkun Olam Committee and the Tzedek Initiative is to join learning and study with action. The action I am proposing in connection with Human Rights Shabbat is for the JCA to give its support to Fair Fight, one of Stacy Abrams’ voting rights organizations. According to their website, Fair Fight promotes “fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourages voter participation in elections, and educates voters about elections and their voting rights. Fair Fight brings awareness to the public on election reform, advocates for election reform at all levels, and engages in other voter education programs and communications.”

I recently made calls with Fair Fight. They strictly enforce their non-partisan status and neither of the candidates are mentioned in the call script. We can support them through donations and by helping in their efforts to expand voting access in Georgia and across the county.

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There are  six days left before the Jan 5th election in Georgia. if you have time, please try to make some calls to get out the vote.

Next week, I will provide a review of 2020. Happy New Year!

 

Human Rights Shabbat D’Var Torah – Part2

This is the second part of the talk I gave on Dec. 12 for Human Rights Shabbat. Lunch and Learn is a weekly group at the synagogue where I lead discussions, based on texts, centered around relationships between African Americans and Jews. We focus on ways for us, as Jewish Americans, to become more actively  and consciously anti-Racist.

In Lunch and Learn, we often discuss the gradual process by which Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants and their descendants became white. In the area of citizenship and voting, the process was more immediate. Once any immigrant naturalized, they could vote. Before 1920, this meant fathers and sons. After passage of the 19th Amendment naturalized female immigrants could vote, making them more fully citizens. An untold story of the suffragist fight for the franchise was the role of black women. Their involvement in expanding American freedom continues to this day. In 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, I believe black women saved our democracy.

Southern whites, in enacting Jim Crow, to replace slavery as a means of enforcing racial separation and hierarchy, used a variety of methods to prevent African Americans from voting. Southern legislators placed the poll tax at a high enough rate that it was effectively out of reach for all poor people, black and white. The rigidly hierarchical nature of post-Civil War Southern society meant most blacks and many poor whites did not own property which was another Jim Crow requirement for voting. Southern states also had literacy requirements which were difficult for poorly educated blacks and many poor whites to pass.  Again, naturalized Jews, living in mostly Northern urban areas faced none of these hurdles when going to vote.

Many of the current requirements in various states around voting which we probably take for granted and assume they have always existed include voter registration which often ends as early as a month before election day and identification requirements. Most of these were enacted in the Progressive Era of the late 19th and early 20th century by both white Jim Crow Southerners and white northern reformers to limit voting access for blacks, immigrants including Jews and Italians and poor whites.

In 1948, when the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, President Truman, a Democrat, proposed a suite of legislation that would have made a significant dent in the Jim Crow edifice. He advocated the creation of a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission, an anti-lynching law, anti-poll tax legislation and the prohibition of discrimination in inter-state transportation facilities.

Today’s parsha ends with Joseph in jail. He has been falsely accused of attempting to sleep with his master’s wife. In the Jim Crow South black men were routinely accused of trespassing with white women and were frequently lynched for this supposed crime. Lynching was the underpinning of a system of ongoing and daily intimidation by whites of black people. This continuous intimidation served as another barrier to voting.

Truman’s Civil Rights program went nowhere because southern senators and congressmen, overwhelmingly Democratic, vehemently opposed it. Progress towards dismantling Jim Crow would have to wait for almost 20 more years. One of the first cracks in Jim Crow disenfranchisement of African Americans came, in 1964 when the 24th Amendment, prohibiting poll taxes in federal election was ratified.

On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson, with Martin Luther King, Jr. by his side, signed the Voting Rights Act. This deeply significant piece of legislation was enacted after the longest filibuster in American history. People, marching from Selma to Montgomery endured great violence and sometime death to help secure passage of the Act. Demonstrations in other places, such as St. Augustine, Florida also convinced the nation that it was time to make the Jim Crow system of segregation illegal.

Next week, I will post the final  part of the D’Var. Happy Holidays!